Don’t let the name fool you. Winter squash, like summer squash, is actually grown in the late spring and summertime. We call them winter squash because we leave them on the plant for a long time so the fruits can develop a hard skin that allows them to store all the way into—you guessed it—the winter months.

Squash crops under the winter squash umbrella give us our favorite hearty winter soups and holiday pies. That’s right, both butternut squash plants and pumpkins are in this category.

Besides the thickness of the skin, there’s one more thing that sets winter squash apart from summer squash: seed distribution. Think about cutting open a pumpkin at Halloween and scooping out the seeds. Winter squash keep all their seeds in one large seed cavity, while summer squash have fruit throughout the flesh.

So if you’re looking to grow fruits with thin skin like yellow squash or zucchini plants, head over here for more info. Growing summer squash is pretty similar to winter squash, though winter squash plants are a bit needier. They need more space, more water, more nutrients, and more time before they’re ready to harvest.

Let’s look at how to grow your own winter squash.

tips for growing winter squash in central texas

WINTER SQUASH PLANTS GROW TWO DIFFERENT WAYS

Winter squash plants can be either bush or vining. Bush types produce large leaves and thick stems and need about 2 to 4 feet of space all to themselves in the garden to spread wide.

Vining types have thinner stems and need to either climb up something or sprawl long over the garden space. It’s best to grow this type of vining plant up a trellis or plant them on the edge of a raised bed so that they can drape over the side and not smother other plants trying to grow in the space. I’ll talk more about how to trellis squash plants in a bit.

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OUR FAVORITE TYPES OF WINTER SQUASH PLANTS TO GROW IN TEXAS

There are so many different types of squash and pumpkins to grow. Some of my favorites include:

 

  • Honeynut Winter Squash – A cross between flavorful butternut squash and sweet buttercup squash, this delicious winner produces terracotta-colored fruits just 4″ to 5″ long on compact vines.
  • Spaghetti Squash – Also called string melons, spaghetti squash plants produce fruit with flesh that falls away in noodle-like strands when cooked. These are considered productive for winter squash, with each planting producing about 5 to 7 fruits.
  • Butterbaby Butternut Squash – This plant grows adorable butternut squash minis on vigorous vines. This is a good option if you’d like to grow your squash up a trellis.
  • Kurinishiki Kabocha Winter Squash – If you want to grow your own little pumpkins, I recommend giving this plant a try. You’ll get 3-pound dark green pumpkins with lighter green striping. The inside of each fruit is similar to a sweet potato in both flavor and texture.
  • Bush Delicata Squash – This compact, semi-vining plant grows dark green- and cream-colored fruit. The yummy flesh has a nutty flavor with notes of butter and brown sugar.
  • Sweet Reba Acorn Squash – This bush-like plant was bred to be high yielding, disease resistant, and super sweet. It produces dark green fruits with golden-orange flesh.

Pro tip:

If you’re container gardening, look for compact vines like honeynut winter squash.

tips for growing winter squash in texas

WHEN TO GROW WINTER SQUASH IN TEXAS

These plants need anywhere from 90 to 120 days of warm weather to produce—that’s a really long time in the vegetable growing world. Fortunately, those of us in warm Central Texas have a really long time period before our last frost of the spring and our first frost of the fall during which we can grow winter squash.

In the spring, you’ll wait until about 2 weeks after your last frost date to plant winter squash seeds directly in the garden. If you plant any earlier than that, even if you’re certain we won’t experience more frost, you risk the soil temperature being a little too cool for squash seeds to sprout well.

For those of us in the greater Austin area, our last frost date is typically in mid-March, so we’d direct sow seeds at the end of March or early April.

You can continue planting winter squash through early June. Once the weather gets really hot in the summer, your plants will ripen established fruits, but they won’t be able to produce any new fruits.

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WHERE TO GROW WINTER SQUASH IN TEXAS

Your top location priority is to choose a site that gets full sun. Winter squash plants require at least 6 hours of sun but will be much more productive with 8 or more hours a day.

These plants are large and sprawling, so make sure you take their ultimate size into account before choosing a planting location. If you have a location that gets some afternoon shade your squash plants will appreciate a break from the sun then.

Vining types will need a trellis. Bush types and and plants with more compact vines don’t necessarily need a structure to climb, but I still recommend using some kind of system to hold the leaves of these plants off the ground.

how to grow winter squash in raised beds in texas

Growing Winter Squash in a Raised Bed

Fruiting plants like winter squash thrive in raised beds filled with well-drained, nutrient-rich soil. These plants need to be watered often, but they love the good drainage that raised beds provide. Winter squash plants that produce fruits over 1lb. each can be planted on the edge of a raised garden bed so that the vines trail over the side and spread outward. Plants with smaller fruits can be trained up a trellis to save space.

Growing Winter Squash in the Ground

Some gardeners prefer to grow squash outside of their raised beds. These plants don’t love the heavy clay soil we tend to have in Texas backyards, so you’ll need to loosen and amend the soil with some sand and compost before planting. Make sure your soil is loosened at least 1′ down. You’ll sow seeds in little hills spaced at least 2′ apart. If you’re growing pumpkins, your hills should be as far apart as 5′ to 6′.

Growing Winter Squash in a Container

If you’re working with a small space, you can grow a compact type of winter squash in a container. Each plant will need its own pot or container to have enough space to grow to its full potential. Look for a pot that’s at least 12 inches deep and 18 inches across so that it can fit some kind of support structure.

Check out this post for tips on how to find container gardening success. Your biggest task will be keeping the soil well-watered since containers dry out faster than raised beds and in-ground gardens. Using a Growoya will help save you time and water by watering the plants right at their roots.

how to grow winter squash in containers

HOW TO GROW WINTER SQUASH ON A TRELLIS

Winter squash with smaller fruits (think acorn squash or mini butternut squash) can be easily grown up a trellis without any additional support. Full-size butternut squash and larger pumpkins will need a little sling to cradle each fruit. Without this extra support, you risk the weight of the fruit putting strain on the stem and even breaking it.

Follow these steps or visit HERE to grow your squash up a trellis.

1. Plant your squash seeds alongside the base of the trellis.

2. For the first few weeks, you’ll need to help the squash vines attach to the trellis. I use garden velcro to tie the vines loosely to the support structure. You don’t want to tie too tighly and risk damaging the plant.

3. Continue tying the tips of the vines as they grow longer. Once it’s established, the plant should be able to then take it from there and attach itself to the trellis using tendrils.

4. Cut up strips of hose to use as a sling for larger fruits. Tie these supports around baby fruits as soon as they begin swelling.

how to grow winter squash on a trellis

HOW TO PLANT WINTER SQUASH BY SEED

Winter squashes don’t really like being moved, so it’s best to wait until all danger of frost has passed and then start them by seed right where they’ll grow. If you’re enticed by those little squash starts you see for sale at your local nursery, just be as careful transplanting them as possible. Take special care not to disturb the roots.

To sow winter squash seeds, follow these simple steps:

1. Spread a 2- to 3-inch thick layer of fresh compost over the garden space. You could also add some mycorrhizae to the planting area to help your little squash seedlings grow strong roots faster. If you’re planting in the ground, form mounds of compost about 6″ high and 2′ apart.

2. Sow squash seeds about 3/4” to 1″ deep. Space seeds in a raised bed about 12″ apart. This spacing assumes you’ll either drape vines over the side of the bed or help them climb a trellis. If you’re planting in the ground, follow the spacing recommendations on the back of the seed packet for the type of squash you’re growing. Pumpkin plants need more room to spread out than other varieties.

The goal is to avoid overcrowding your squash plants, which can make them more susceptible to pests and diseases. These plants need lots of room to grow to their full potential.

3. Once all your seeds are placed in the planting area, cover them with soil or compost.

4. Water the planting area. Maintain a consistently moist soil while you’re waiting on the squash seeds to germinate.

how to grow winter squash from seed

HOW TO CARE FOR WINTER SQUASH PLANTS

Squash plants love warm days, but they’re not cut out for summer heat. If temps are spiking over 95 degrees while you still have squash producing in your garden, consider using a floating row cover or shade cloth to protect them and prevent them from dropping their blossoms.

Other than providing shade when needed, your tending tasks for winter squash will include watering, fertilizing, pruning, and making sure the flowers are getting pollinated.

How to Water Winter Squash

Squash plants need plenty of water throughout the growing season to keep them healthy and their fruits full of flavor. Check the soil moisture frequently with your fingertips. If the top layer of soil feels dry, it’s time to water the planting area.

On extra-hot days, you may see your squash plant’s leaves starting to wilt. Make sure the plant has enough water and consider providing some afternoon shade.

You’ll most likely need to water your squash plants every day during our warmer, drier months. If you’re watering by hand, it’s best to head out in the early morning.

We recommend using a long watering wand so that you can get right to the base of the plants. Water deeply to encourage the roots to reach down, not stay shallow, to find water.

Also, avoid splashing water on the leaves to prevent powdery mildew. Wet leaves are just an invitation for fungal disease and mildew growth.

Another watering method is to install drip irrigation or a an oya prior to planting. I love Garden in Minutes for a DIY drip irrigation kit and GrowOya’s make deep watering easy with no set up required besides some digging in your garden.

Once your squash plants are established in your garden, they’ll need about an inch of water each week for high yields.

Water Deeply with GrowOya

How to Fertilize Winter Squash Plants

Squash plants are heavy feeders. Adding organic matter like compost or worm castings at the time of planting is a great way to give your plants lots of nutrients when they’re just starting out.

After that, you’ll focus on giving them fertilizer high in phosphorus and potassium to help them support and form flowers and fruit.

My go-to fertilizer for fruiting plants is MicroLife’s Maximum Blooms. This is a liquid fertilizer that you can just add to a watering can before giving your plants a good soak around their base. Begin applying as soon as you see the first flower forming, and then repeat every 2 to 4 weeks.

How to Prune Squash Plants

Pruning is a key way to keep squash plants healthy. Each week, remove any damaged or yellowed leaves from your plants. As squash plants grow up their stake or garden trellis, prune away some of the older, lower leaves near the base to increase air circulation in the garden and give the plant more energy to focus on new leaves, flowers, and fruits.

It’s really just those top leaves that are important to the plant’s ability to get energy from the sun, so don’t be afraid to remove older leaves from the bottom.

Since the stems of bush types are hollow, make sure to cut them right at the base.

Pro tip:

Squash plants can have little spikes on them that can irritate the skin and cause rashes. I recommend wearing long sleeves and gloves while tending.

how to care for winter squash growing in the garden

How to Pollinate Winter Squash Flowers by Hand

This tending task is only necessary if you notice that your plant is forming fruits that struggle to form or just whither away. This happens because they’re not being pollinated. We can usually rely on bees and butterflies to do the pollinating for us, but you might need to step in if your area sprays heavily for pests and isn’t very inviting to our pollinators.

First, let’s talk about the two types of flowers you’ll find on your squash plants.

Male Flowers

Male flowers typically form first on the plant. To confirm a flower is male, look behind the flower. Males have a straight stem at their base. If you look at the flower itself, you should see just one little protrusion (the stamen). One male flower can pollinate lots of female flowers.

Female Flowers

Female flowers usually follow male flowers within a couple days or weeks. If you look behind a female flower, you’ll see a curve at the base. This is the baby fruit that will grow and ripen if things go according to nature’s plan. Female flowers also feature a central stigma, which looks like a little cluster of tentacles.

Here’s how to ensure each little baby fruit gets pollinated before it’s too late.

  • First, find a male flower and use a Q-tip or small paint brush to rub some pollen from the central stamen.
  • Then, find a female flower. Brush the pollen you collected from the male onto the female’s stigma.

You could also just pluck the male flower, remove all the petals, and then rub it inside the female flowers.

how to pollinate winter squash

COMMON WINTER SQUASH GROWING PROBLEMS

Unfortunately, winter squash plants are prone to pest problems and disease. Consistent watering and regular pruning go a long way in keeping plants healthy and preventing issues.

Garden Tip:

My favorite garden products to prevent pest and disease are from Arber. I use their fungicide, bio insecticide and bio protectant each week. Just add 1 tsp of each to a 24oz spray bottle with water and apply to my plants each week.

Squash Vine Borers

These pests are moths that look more like red and blacks wasps in their adult form. It’s really their larvae that’s the problem. They look like little grubs and burrow through the stems of your plants.

If they eat their way through, they can cause sudden squash death. By the time you see what looks like saw dust on the stems of your plants, it can already be too late.

To prevent squash vine borer problems, cover your plants with garden mesh until they need to be pollinated to prevent the adults from laying eggs in your garden. You could also just keep your plants covered at all times and pollinate them by hand.

Other ways to deal with the squash vine borer include using pheromone traps and digging out the borers from the vines.

For best results I suggest doing daily egg checks. The eggs are small reddish-brown dots the size of a pencil tip and will be located at the base of the plant and on the back of stems and leaves. You can scrape off the eggs from the stems and leaves or use double sided sticky tape to remove the eggs.

Cucumber Beetles

These beetles can be yellow and black or orange and black. They feed on leaves and stems, which can significantly stunt your plants, and can also spread disease.

The best way to prevent them is, again, to keep your plants covered. Hand pick any beetles you see and toss them into soapy water.

Powdery Mildew

Unfortunately, this is pretty common here in our warm climate. Fungal diseases like powdery mildew thrive in heat and humidity.

For best results, focus on prevention. Pruning leaves regularly can go a long way in preventing this disease or, at the very least, slowing its spread. The same goes for tying up stems or trellising climbing varieties to keep their leaves off the soil. Your goal is to give each plant access to good airflow.

Again, avoid spraying the leaves of the plant if you’re using a watering can or soaker hose. Wet leaves, especially in a warm environment, can mean bad news.

You’ll know your plants are effected by powdery mildew when they suddenly look like they’ve got white powder on their leaves. Remove diseased leaves immediately. I highly recommend Arber Fungicide to help keep powedrey mildew in check in your garden. You’ll spray both sides of the leaves once a week.

Squash Bugs

These are those really ugly dark grey bugs that look like narrower stink bugs. They’re armored and can also release a stinky smell.

I’ve seen unprotected squash plants overrun with these guys. You’ll want to check your plants regularly for their brown eggs, which will be under the leaves in groups. Remove eggs and knock any adults you find into soapy water.

Aphids

If you notice tiny orange, light green, black, or whitish bugs on the bottom of your leaves, you’ve probably got an aphid issue. They’re feeding on the sap in the leaves of your plants.

My first line of defense is to spray the leaves weekly with Arber’s bio insecticide and bio protectant.

My second line of defense is to spray leaves with water to try to knock the aphids off and disrupt their reproductive cycle. Check back every day to see if they return. Read more about how to deal with aphids here.

squash vine borer is a common pest for winter squash

HOW TO HARVEST WINTER SQUASH

Winter squash fruits are ready to harvest when their rind is hard enough that you can’t make a dent in it with your fingernail. The stems will begin to shrivel and die at this point.

If you happen to still have fruits on the vine when we’re expecting our first frost of the season, go ahead and harvest everything ASAP.

To harvest winter squash, cut the stem with a clean pair of pruners or a sharp knife, leaving about 2″ of stem attached. Avoid carrying the fruit by this stem so that it doesn’t break off. Keeping the stems helps winter squashes and pumpkins store better.

Even though these fruits seem so much tougher than something like a tender little tomato, handle them gently to prevent bruising.

While you can bring your summer squash inside immediately, you actually want to leave your harvested winter squash on the ground for about 10 days to cure. This toughens the skin while sweetening the flesh.

If you need to bring squash indoors due to frost or rain, let them sit near a sunny window to cure instead. Note that delicata squash and acorn squash don’t have to be cured; on the downside, this means they won’t store as long.

Wipe fruit down before bringing it indoors but avoid spraying it with water.

Growing squash in your vegetable garden means you’re in for a bountiful harvest. A single plant can often produce enough for two to three people.

Pro tip:

You can actually harvest and enjoy male blossoms. Lots of gardeners fry these up.

when to harvest winter squash

HOW TO SAVE AND ENJOY WINTER SQUASH

After being cured, your winter squash can save for 5 to 6 months. Make sure to store it in a cool, dry place. If you notice the rind getting soft, use that squash right away or throw it out.

Avoid rinsing your harvest until you’re ready to eat. Squash is well worth growing since it’s such a versatile vegetable in the kitchen. You can steam it, sauté it, and add it to soups. I’ve recently been inspired by Brazilian cuisine to use pumpkin year round in more recipes. It’s so delicious. And of course, spaghetti squash makes an excellent substitute for spaghetti noodles.

 

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